Educator Quality

We Can’t Wait!

The Massachusetts Working Group for Educator Excellence

We can’t wait any longer for legislators and other policy makers to pass the laws, make the policies, and appropriate the funds that will attract and keep quality teachers in our schools. Each year that our children are taught by teachers who are not knowledgeable in their subject area, inexperienced as teachers, or part of the “revolving door of teachers” that characterizes too many of our districts, our children are deprived of the education that is essential to a productive country. In addition, new teachers who work in schools and districts with inexperienced educational leaders who are not prepared for the challenges of leadership are leaving their schools in record numbers because of dissatisfaction with the amount of support and guidance they are receiving.

Since the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future issued its first report in 1996, the nation has known that a problem was brewing because of the dwindling teacher pipeline and – equally serious – the inability of schools to retain and nurture quality teachers. The time has come for dramatic action in Massachusetts as well as across the country as the “problem” has become a full-blown crisis.

The cost of teacher turnover – which includes the teachers who leave schools and who move to other schools – is significant for school districts. Boston (MA) reports that the annual cost of teacher turnover is over $13 million. Nationally, the average cost to a district when a teacher leaves the profession or for a different district is $12,500. The money spent on recruiting, attracting, and supporting new teachers – who represent 60% of all teachers in schools today – is diverted from providing the resources needed for students in classrooms.

The average age of teachers in Massachusetts in 2006 was 44.6 (Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission of MA, 2006), as opposed to 53 in 1998 (MTA and MFT). The average number of years of service was 13.9 in 2006, down from 14.2 in 2005. Because of large numbers of early retirements and the well-documented inability of schools to retain new teachers (30 – 40% leave the professional in their first 5 years of teaching), children may have an inexperienced teacher in more than half of their 12 or 13 years of schooling.

The lack of knowledge and skills in the teacher workforce in America is an unpublicized national scandal. A study published in Science by Pianta Belsky, Houts, and Morrison found that there is a 1 in 14 chance that a child will find a rich, supportive learning environment in his or her school (2007). In a sampling of 2500 classrooms across the country, students were spending 91% of their time listening to the teacher or working alone on low-level worksheets. For decades educators and policy makers have had access to study after study that has shown that children learn best when their teachers have deep levels of knowledge in their fields, design lessons and classroom climates in which students are supported to learn through multiple approaches, small group interaction, frequent targeted feedback from teachers, and models of learning and thinking that are provided by the teacher and other students. Other countries, such as Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, and Finland, provide their teachers with training and professional support to use the most effective teaching methods – which are too often absent in American schools.

The number of new teachers who are teaching on waivers – because they are not yet licensed – has reached record proportions. Some districts report that as many as 25% of their teachers are on waivers, especially in the areas of math, science, special education, and languages. Many teachers who are licensed are being asked to teach out of their area of expertise due to the district’s inability to hire qualified teachers.

The Stanford University School of Education report by Darling-Ham